Black history in and around Sioux Falls, S.D.

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 9/12/2013, 3:44 p.m.

Last time around, we had just begun our exploration of Sioux Falls, S.D., named after the Sioux Native American Tribe, who were the first inhabitants of the area, and the Big Sioux River that runs through it. With a population close to 160,000 people, it is the largest city in the state.

Although Blacks in Sioux Falls and South Dakota today constitute only about 4 percent and 1 percent respectively, their roots here run deep. Even before Sioux Falls officially became a city in 1889, there was an Afrocentric presence, including that of Nat Love, a former slave from Tennessee who some have called “the most famous Black cowboy of them all.”

Love made a name for himself in several states as a tough, astute and savvy horseman and sharpshooter who survived many a plains conflict, including against and with the Native Americans and Mexican vaqueros. His remarkable skills eventually earned him the nickname “Deadwood Dick,” a nod to the town of Deadwood City, where he won several high stakes cattle roping and sharpshooting competitions in 1876.

The 25th U.S. Infantry of the Buffalo Soldiers were moved here from Texas in 1880, assigned to stations in Fort Randall, Fort Hale and Fort Meade, all of which were in what was then called the Dakota Territory.

In Yankton, about 80 miles from Sioux Falls, Blacks had established their own thriving community. One historical document written in 1889 notes, “Yankton has a mixed population of five thousand inhabitants about 60 of whom are Afro-Americans, who are more or less in a prosperous condition. The schools, churches and hotels are thrown open to all regardless to color, and the result is, the feeling that exists between the two races is friendly in the extreme.” In it, several townsfolk—both men and women—are positively noted for real estate holdings, business entities, entrepreneurial efforts, leadership and other qualities.

Other Black accomplishments and leaders continued to emerge over the years, and their presence is still felt today. Much of this area’s history is displayed at the South Dakota African American History Museum. Although not officially a museum, rather multiple display cases featured inside of Washington Pavillion, one of Sioux Falls’ historic sites, it does possess a wealth of artifacts, photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that tell the story of our history around the state.

Timeless History

One of the most interesting attractions in town is the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial. Commissioned in 1942, it was the lead ship of the South Dakota class of battleships, the second ship in the Navy named after the state and the most decorated battleship of World War II—with 13 battle stars—having fought from 1942 to 1945 in every major naval battle in the Pacific.

Although the ship has long since been dismantled, the memorial here features an outline of the original ship to scale, encompassing numerous components that would have been on the original vessel. Inside the museum, you’ll find a wide array of artifacts, memorabilia, exhibits and more that detail the historic journey, the lives and service of those who fought aboard, those who lost their lives in the process and those who have worked diligently since to keep the memories and history alive. Additionally, a great deal of effort was made to incorporate numerous items, floor boards and more from the original ship.